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After rapid years of growth, a trough for BOPP film demand

Global annual average demand-growth for bi-oriented polypropylene film is set to drop by about 2% in the next few years. Capacity, however, is set to expand by 33%, which could make for an interesting fight for market share.

The numbers come from a new study, World BOPP Film Market Trends 2008, by PCI Films Consulting (Guilsborough, England). The study examines the BOPP film market from 2003-2008 and predicts where it is headed for the period 2008-2013. The chart shows demand-growth for that first period, and also PCI’s prediction that demand will fall in every region, though that fall will be most pronounced as a percent of total demand in Western Europe, the only region where demand fell in 2008.

Elsewhere, the $15 billion BOPP film industry experienced more positive buyer behavior. Growth in demand was seen in Eastern Europe, thanks to investment in retailing, food processing, and new converting equipment. In South East Asia, especially India, growth was stimulated by increased availability of film, according to PCI. North America experienced a 3% growth in demand in 2008, whereas demand in Central and South America remained relatively stable.

During the year, supply and demand in China’s 1.8-million-tonne market became more balanced, which made for some capital investment recently. Film orientation-equipment designer Brückner (Siegsdorf, Germany) still sees continued high demand for its equipment in China, according to Uwe Thönniss, managing director of the company’s Servtec division, who spoke with MPW last week during the course of a technical forum at optical-quality-control equipment supplier OCS (Witten, also Germany).

Thönniss said that since 2001, 50% of all of Brückner’s sales have been to processors in China. Brückner controls about 55% of the market for bi-orientation film equipment, with the rest mostly split between three other companies (DMT-16%; Dornier-14%; JSW-MHI – 4%). Of all bi-orientation equipment, about 66% is used for processing of PP, he said, followed by 25% for PET, 5% for polyamide, and the remainder for an assortment of niche products.  
For buyers of BOPP film, PCI’s report also confirms that the Middle Eastern BOPP film industry is expected to emerge as a significant regional production center in the future, doubling its size in the next three years. One of the major factors driving this growth is the support given by regional governments to downstream industries, which are capable of adding value to oil assets. PP resin production, film extrusion, flexible packaging, and food processing are all industries targeted for expansion in the region. Limited regional demand, however, means processors there will be pressed to find customers in export markets.

In the next five years, according to PCI, an additional 2.3 million tonnes of new BOPP film capacity is expected to be commissioned, expanding the industry by a third, which will likely will cause a shakeup not only in the market’s leadership but also in its pricing structure. [email protected]

MIM furnace supplier Elnik opens West Coast branch

The new West Coast branch is Elnik’s first expansion since it moved into a new manufacturing facility in 1999. Joens noted that, besides giving customers easy access, it is especially important to answer questions and concerns quickly because of the highly technical nature of Elnik products.

Elnik Systems makes a line of furnaces, as well as other devices, for the metal injection molding (MIM) process, including its MIM 3000 series of furnaces that process any metal with any binder in a one-step debinding and sintering cycle, eliminating the need to move the parts from one system to another. [email protected]

Polymerupdate European resin pricing, Sept. 21-25: PP down; ABS up; LDPE, LLDPE, PS, PVC, and PET flat

Polypropylene (PP) spot prices dropped in Europe last week, according to Polymerupdate, falling as buyers still awaited the October settlement price for propylene. Spot homopolymer fell to Euro 985/tonne FD Northwest Europe, with copolymer at Euro 1035/tonne FD Northwest Europe. Contract prices of PP injection rose to Euro 1085/tonne FD Northwest Europe, with PP copolymer contracts at Euro 1135/tonne FD Northwest Europe. In the spot market, prices declined, with homopolymer at Euro 985/tonne FD Northwest Europe and copolymer prices at Euro 1035/tonne FD Northwest Europe. The fall off came in the face of weaker demand locally and bearish cues from Asia and the Middle East.

Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)
contract prices were unchanged at Euro 1130 to Euro 1140/tonne FD Northwest Europe and FD Italy.  In the spot market, LDPE general-purpose grades declined to Euro 1015 to Euro 1025/tonne FD Northwest Europe. Despite relatively low stocks, LDPE sellers were forced to drop their rates due to weak buyer interest and bearish sentiments from LDPE markets across Asia, the Middle East, and the U.S. A poor outlook for European ethylene prices in October also wielded downward pressure on spot LDPE rates.

Linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE)
contract prices were steady while spot prices fell in Europe. LLDPE contracts were unchanged at Euro 1130/tonne FD Northwest Europe, but spot LLDPE adjusted downwards to Euro 1015 to Euro 1025/tonne FD Northwest Europe. Sluggish buying sentiments continued to weigh on the market, which fell further on bearish outlooks for ethylene feedstock in October.

Polystyrene (PS)
contract prices were flat last week, with general-purpose (GPPS) at Euro 1205/tonne FD Northwest Europe, and high-impact (HIPS) staying at Euro 1260/tonne FD Northwest Europe. In the spot market, GPPS slipped to Euro 1010/tonne FD Northwest Europe, with HIPS prices flat at Euro 1060/tonne FD Northwest Europe. In plant news, Ineos Nova reportedly closed its 90,000 tonnes/yr PS plant at Breda, the Netherlands due to overcapacity. Other supporting factors included weak margins, sluggish demand, and significant feedstock volatility.

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)
contract prices rose in Europe last week, with general-purpose and natural-grade ABS at Euro 1435 to Euro 1445/tonne FD Northwest Europe and FD Italy. A source told Polymerupdate that prices settled up Euro 30 to Euro 40/tonne compared to August settlements, instead of the Euro 50/tonne that was sought. Spot ABS prices declined, with general purpose and natural grades at Euro 1095 to Euro 1105/tonne FD Northwest Europe.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
prices in Europe were unchanged last week at Euro 960 to Euro 970/tonne FD Northwest Europe. In the spot market, some improvement was recorded in demand allowing sellers to raise PVC offer prices, with FD Northwest Europe spot prices of PVC suspension grade rising to Euro 850 to Euro 870/tonne. A PVC seller contacted by Polymerupdate explained that actual user stocks of PVC have been exhausted, and there is a need to restock, especially since Europe’s construction industry is beginning to show early signs of a recovery. Regional avails of PVC are set to increase with Ineos lifting the force majeure at its 460,000 tonnes/yr vinyl chlorine monomer (VCM) plant at Rafnes, Norway.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) contract prices were assessed at Euro 1185 to Euro 1205/tonne FD Northwest Europe, with spot prices at Euro 920 to Euro 940/tonne FD Northwest Europe. Buying interest remained weak, with the market at the end of the peak warm-weather cold-drinks season. PET producers are struggling with margins, unable to pass on higher costs for key feedstock monoethylene glycol (MEG). Several producers did nominate higher target prices for September, with increases ranging from Euro 50 to Euro 70/tonne, before settling for more modest increases following a rollover in paraxylene (PX) feedstock prices for September. Competitively priced offers from Asia and the Middle East, also kept pressure on European PET. [email protected]

Cluster valve gating perfects microparts

Mold Hotrunner Solutions (Georgetown, ON) recently debuted its Rheo-Pro M05VG multi-tip valve-gate hot runner. It is said to be ideal for molding direct-gated microparts with crisp, clean gate marks, and it distributes melt through tight, circular clusters of six gates per nozzle. An X-shaped hot runner manifold system with four nozzles, for example, will feed a 24-cavity mold. The extremely tight gate spacing offers the most compact mold design for microparts. This is important because it reduces the melt residence time for sensitive molding materials like POM, PC, and PSU.

The M05VG can direct-gate microparts with a weight of less than 5 mg. It delivers crisp, clean gate marks of 0.7-1.0 mm in diameter with zero gate vestige. Traditional thermal gating and hot-tip gating experience inherent problems with microparts because of cold slugs below the surface and gate vestige on the surface. These methods reportedly often fail to achieve the part quality required for precision micro parts, particularly in medical applications. [email protected]

TPE North American resin pricing, Sept. 21-25: PE, PS steady; PP drops

Polyethylene (PE) spot prices were mostly steady last week, although some market participants said there were some instances of lower offers for prime spot material, according to spot-trading platform, The Plastics Exchange (TPE), and its reporting partner, The PetroChem Wire. Producers have been seeking a $0.04/lb increase to September contracts, and while some participants said this was still under negotiation, others reported that the increases were finding support due to tight supplies. Adding uncertainty to the situation are unsettled ethylene contracts. Spot-market trading has been thin due to higher offers and the tight supply situation, which has been attributed to local production issues and strong export demand earlier this summer. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) blowmold continues to be discussed in the low $0.50s/lb in the domestic market, with some limited talk of domestic HDPE offers in the high $0.40s/lb. Linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) film butene grade has been at a premium of about $0.015/lb, with high-molecular-weight HDPE film, which has been particularly tight in September, in the mid-to-high $0.50s/lb. TPE reports that low-density polyethylene (LDPE) film is in the high $0.50s/lb. Exports, which have been a key driver of U.S. PE prices during the third quarter, have slowed this month, with HDPE blowmold offers in the $0.46-$0.48/lb range on an FOB Houston basis, amidst limited talk of offers dipping into the low $0.40s/lb for October shipment.

Polypropylene (PP) spot price ideas were lower last week amid waning demand, with market participants reporting that September contracts rose roughly in line with increases in propylene monomer. No October initiatives have been confirmed. Spot PP trading has been slow in September, as traders and processors sought to keep inventories low, saying they were reluctant to accumulate high-priced inventory. On the manufacturing side, PP producers have kept operating rates low this month. Even so, spot prices have started to soften as supply has outpaced demand, with generic-prime railcars of homopolymer PP in the domestic market discussed in the low $0.60s/lb range on a delivered basis. There has been some talk, however, about offers being seen in the high $0.50s/lb, with copolymer PP at about a $0.015/lb premium to homopolymer PP. High U.S. prices have dried up the export market, but there has been some talk that China, with weak demand and expanding inventories, could look to the U.S. and Latin America to unload PP.

Polystyrene (PS) spot prices were steady last week, as general-purpose PS held in the low-to-mid $0.60s/lb, and high-impact PS mostly discussed in the low $0.70s/lb. In the contract market, participants have floated the possibility of a $0.02-$0.04/lb decrease, but an outcome to these negotiations has not been confirmed. [email protected]

W&H scores success in Thailand

Thailand is the main market for Windmöller & Hölscher (W&H) in Southeast Asia, and its second biggest in all of the continent. At the same time, the country’s technological needs are constantly rising in line with demand for increasingly higher-quality and higher-performance packaging, according to Michael Fischer, managing director, Asia Pacific, who spoke to Plastics Today at the recent Tiprex show in Bangkok, Thailand. One example of this is the recent delivery of a cutting-edge, 10-color Miraflex flexographic printing press to Prepack Thailand. The print width is 1450 mm and speed is up to 370 m/min.

W&H’s Fischer says Thailand’s converters are continuing to invest in state-of-the-art equipment despite the economic slowdown.
Fischer says that Thai converters have, over the years, come to be able to utilize highly automated German machinery at high efficiency levels and get the very last kilogram out of their production lines. “And they have to do so in order to stay competitive in the export market,” he notes.

W&H will hold an open house in November at its headquarters in Germany, where it will debut a Varex three-layer blown-film line available at a significantly lower price point, as well as its Aquarex upside down extrusion process, among other highlights. Stephen Moore

Brand building key at expanding PTT Chem

Whereas in the past, polymer suppliers in Thailand were known by their corporate names rather than their products, the strategy at PTT Chemical Public Co. is to build its InnoPlus brand. The brand was inaugurated around one year ago, according to Dr. Dhanes Charoensupaya, executive VP of marketing, Commercial and Supply Chain Governance at PTT Chemical, who was speaking to Plastics Today at the recent Tiprex show in Bangkok, Thailand.

Executive VP Dr. Dhanes Charoensupaya says PTT Chemical is looking at diversifying its product portfolio.
This brand-building exercise comes at a time when the polymer supplier is adding significant capacity. It expects 300,000 tonnes/yr of new HDPE capacity to be on-stream by the end of 2009, adding to its 500,000 tonnes/yr of existing HDPE capacity. Furthermore, a new LLDPE line with capacity of 400,000 tonnes/yr is expected on-line in October. In addition, a 300,000-tonnes/yr LDPE plant is scheduled to come on stream by the first quarter of 2010.

“The timing of the new plants is good, particularly for LDPE, which is widely used in packaging,” says Charoensupaya, who adds that, “Thai packaging convertors are exporting their products worldwide. We want to concentrate on partnerships with our customers so that they can compete in the high-tech plastics industry on a global basis.” Stephen Moore

Screen-printing innovations from Dubuit

Dubuit Far East is a prime example of what it takes to be a successful manufacturer in Thailand, where it builds a variety of screen-printing machinery for printing on a variety of surface shapes and types. Case-in-point, the successful sales of a Universal High Speed UV 249 screen-printing machine on the first day of the recent Pack Print International show in Bangkok, Thailand.

Dubuit scored a first-day sale at Pack Print International
in Bangkok.
The 249 is Dubuit's latest offering and it was developed under the philosophy of faster, cheaper, and easier to maintain. Capable of printing up 10 colors in-line at a rate of 6000 objects/hr, the 249 can print on cylindrical, oval, and flat surfaces.

A second new development at Dubuit is the 105 semi-automatic screen printer. Company owner Francois Dubuit says the aim is to offer the cheapest semi-automatic unit in the world. "Our target price is $2000-2500." The single-color unit's output is between 600 and 1000 pieces per hour.

To keep ahead of competition from China, Dubuit adopts a mechanical system in its screen-printing machinery instead of the commonly used pneumatic drive. Dubuit also manufactures the majority of its components in-house to ensure quality and control delivery time. It also utilizes best-in-class electronic components.

Francois Dubuit says its last financial year proved challenging, with the company only shipping 70 machines, although it has seen a swift turnaround since. "We have already shipped close to the same number of machines in the last four months," he says. Stephen Moore

Xaloy acquires Spirex

(Youngstown, OH) have joined, with Xaloy acquiring Spirex on Sept. 24, 2009, combining strength in the extrusion market for Xaloy with the injection-focused Spirex. Tom Bametzrieder, VP global marketing at Xaloy, told Plastics Today that at this time the plan going forward is to retain some elements of the Spirex brand, and, as far as Spirex management and employees are concerned, Bametzrieder said that at this time, “Everything is status quo.”
According to Bametzrieder, Spirex and Xaloy, given some shared history and players, have kept in touch over the years, and described last week’s transaction as a “mutual coming together process.” Bametzrieder, who joined Xaloy in January of this year, said there is some overlap in products and customers, but looked at in aggregate, the combined companies have synergies that can be exploited, adding that strengths will be strengthened, and respective weaknesses addressed, with the result being a company that represents the “best of the best.” Spirex President Paul Colby jr. declined to comment.

Founded in 1978 by Paul Colby sr., who was inducted into The Plastic Academy’s Hall of Fame during NPE2009, Spirex manufactures plasticating systems, including screws, barrels, and front-end components. Xaloy’s roots date to 1929 and California, when it was founded as Industrial Research Laboratories, a contract research group. In 1931, that company developed a hard, wear-resistant iron-boron alloy that was later patented and trademarked "Xaloy." More recently, Xaloy acquired Colby’s former employer, New Castle Industries, in 2003, strengthening its capabilities in screw design and manufacturing. In 2006, Xaloy expanded its extrusion equipment offerings with the acquisition of Dynisco’s extrusion business unit. In December 2001, Spirex acquired Bimetalix, a producer of bimetallic single and twin barrels, serving the plastic- and food-processing industries. The merger added barrel manufacturing to Spirex’s capabilities.

In late 2008, Baird Capital Partners (Milwaukee) sold Xaloy to Industrial Growth Partners (IGP), a San Francisco-based private investment firm, for an undisclosed price (see Plastics Today’s initial coverage here). Ron Auletta, who became president and CEO in late 2008, replacing Walter Cox, announced a series of management changes earlier this year, which among other things, resulted in the exit of plastics industry veterans Randy Pearson, president of Xaloy North America, and Günther Hoyt, executive VP. Tony Deligio

New copolymer able to make the most of polyolefins and polyamide

According to Arkema’s Dominique Jousset, Apolhya business manager, the family of materials is comprised not of blends of polyolefins and polyamides, both of which Arkema offers, but rather the material is a copolymer: a comb-block-copolymer to be precise. The properties of polyamides are combined with those of polyolefins by producing co-continuous morphologies on the copolymers on a nanometric scale.
Jousset says the material is not based on a specific polyolefin but rather is a copolymer, generally containing some ethylene as a co-monomer. The composition of the copolymer can vary to a large extent according to grades and applications needs such as mechanical properties, thermal resistance, chemical resistance or transparency requirements, she stated in response to questions from MPW.
Regardless of the composition, Arkema is able to propose nanostructured polymers, with very stable morphology during further processing (injection molding, extrusion, blowmolding), she added.
According to the supplier, the entire Apolhya range is characterized by enhanced thermal stability compared to polyolefins, greater flexibility than conventional polyamides, and good impact resistance.
It also offers good chemical resistance and resistance to thermo-oxidization, and so it is of particular interest for applications requiring flexibility and prolonged use above 150°C. Unlike conventional polymer alloys, its nanostructuring gives it transparency. Arkema says the halogen-free fire-retardant Apolhya grades process more easily than crosslinked polymers. As an additive, Apolhya can be used as a compatibilizer or an adhesion promoter during the recycling of polyolefins and polyamides. It can also boost the thermomechanical properties of polyolefin-based thermoplastic elastomers, or improve the impact properties of polyamide 6 and 6,6 formulations.
According to Jousset, some grades already see commercial use and some other applications are also very near commercialization. For instance, an extrusion grade is already used in an automotive underhood application, with the material specified due to its easy processing, high thermo-oxidation resistance, and good oil resistance. In a different application, transparency was the deciding factor as a customer was able to shift from a carbon black-modified competitive material to a natural and transparent version of Ajodhya.
Arkema already has capacity for “tens of tons” of the material, though it would not provide detailed annual capacity. [email protected]